Biking with Kids in Switzerland

At the moment, we are a casual biking family who likes to go on leisurely rides with something pretty to look at. When riding with children, I prefer mostly flat paths that are separate from car traffic, which is much harder to find than I thought. There are a lot of great Swiss bike route websites, but they are mostly focused on long routes for serious bikers or challenging mountain biking routes.

Through some trial and error, I have a few tips and tricks based on a few years of biking with kids in Switzerland, including where to go, how to find new routes, where to rent kids bikes, and using public transportation with bikes. If you are a more serious cyclist, check out Cycling in Switzerland on English Forum. Below are links to sections in my long post below:

  • Where To Go?
  • Official Bike Paths
  • Biking on Unmarked Paths
  • Renting Bikes
  • Public Transport with Bikes
  • Biking Road Rules

Where To Go?

Switzerland has lots of well-marked biking routes and it’s easy to rent biking equipment and use public transportation to access trails. But it can be difficult to find paths are safe and appropriate for children. First, here are some bike rides we’ve done as a family that I recommend. Below that are tips on finding other routes suitable for children.

 

Official Bike Paths

Switzerland has three types of official marked paths suitable for bikes: blue for road cycling, yellow for mountain biking, and purple for skating, which can also be used by bikes. These paths have a number that correspond to route information you can find on SchweizMobil. In addition, there are many local bike paths, marked and unmarked, that do not appear on SchweizMobil and in my experience are more suitable for leisurely family outings. More on each path type below.

The blue cycling routes are documented on SchweizMobil – Veloland. These routes are intended for long distance road cyclists. So I only use this website to start my research. There are never enough details about the route for me to know if it will be good my kids or not. All routes are on paved roads, sometimes on quiet country lanes, but also on high volume traffic roads, sometimes without a bike lane. You really have to analyze the map to guess what conditions you’ll get.

I prefer the purple skating routes, documented on SchweizMobil – Skatingland, because these paths are almost always separate from roads, sometimes on sidewalks next to the road. They are always paved, since skates cannot go on dirt. These paths are also usually pretty flat, which is better for skating. As far as I can tell, bikes are always allowed on skating paths. We haven’t ventured into mountain biking yet, so if anyone wants to guest post on that, let me know.

The local biking paths tend to be the best for families but also the hardest to find. Most do not appear on SchweizMobil and if they do, only a portion of the local path is used as part of a longer road cycling path. For example, SchweizMobil doesn’t include the excellent bike path along the Reuss River but does have a cyling route on the busy road a couple km away but parallel to the river. I only found the nice bike path by studying various maps and guessing that the service road next to the river might allow bikes. Good thing or I might have missed this:

Biking on Unmarked Paths

Most bike paths are well marked, so just follow the bike or skate symbols and/or numbers on the red sign markers. Sometimes bike symbols are painted on the ground. Sometime the bike path crosses to the wrong side of the street. It’s usually pretty straightforward. However, some local routes are not marked at all or require some guesswork. It’s hard to find official info on this (please send me it if you do), so the below info is based on my experience biking on these routes and reading the local signs. Please use your own good judgement and follow all posted rules and regulations. We’ve ridden on several local routes that are a combination of service roads and walking paths (small yellow marker). These have been my favorite bike paths for kids, but it’s not always clear if we’re allowed to ride there or not. In general, fast bikes are not allowed on walking paths. However, in many areas, slow bikes are allowed on walking paths unless marked. I discovered this when reading a map at the Greifensee, which outlined rules for fast vs. slow/family bikes. For example, below left, the sign show mixed use bikes and pedestrians and is combined with bike path signs. Yes, you can bike there, but pedestrians have the right of way. Below right, the sign shows pedestrians only; no, you cannot bike there, go on the other path.

Yes, you can bike if you see the sign disallowing cars and motorbikes. Probably you can bike when the sign forbids all motorized vehicles but also has a yellow walking path sign. No, you cannot bike on paths when you see a red/white circle sign that doesn’t specify which vehicles are prohibited, that means no bikes unless another sign says “ausgenommen Velos,” which means bikes are exempt.

Renting Bikes

Most areas on popular bike routes have bike shops that offer rentals. Below are some methods on finding the right rental shop. On weekends and school holidays, it’s best to call ahead to reserve and also make sure they have children’s equipment you need, as some shops only stock adult bikes or very few children’s bikes. During school holidays, we have found that some bike shops are completely booked out, with all their equipment reserved weeks in advance. So plan ahead.

Veloland.ch has links to bike rental and cycle service shops, both on their maps and on region and route profiles. The Bicycle and E-bike page lists contact info for bike rentals in Switzerland or can be filtered by region. The Veloland Map shows bike rentals and cycle services on a map (click icon to view details). Each city or region profile has links to bike rentals for that area, for example, Interlaken, Lenzerheide, Kreuzlingen/Konstanz, LucerneZurich.

Rent A Bike is a helpful rental service (in English) linked with both public train stations and private bike rentals in Switzerland, as shown on this map. You can make bike reservations through this site and see what equipment is available at various locations. Some locations rent children’s bike equipment like children’s bikes, child carriers, bike trailers, tandem bikes, and helmets. You can see the types of bikes available on this page. Note that bike season is 1 April through 31 October and availability is limited outside this period. German terms for children’s bike equipment:

  • Kindersitz = child seat on back of bike, rented free of charge
  • Kindervelo = child’s bike, sizes 24cm
  • Kinderanhänger = bike trailer with room for 1-2 children aged 1 to 6
  • Windshattenvelo = tandem attachment to adult bike, for children aged 4 to 7

From Rent A Bike, you can rent 1/2 day (until 13:30), 1 day or multiple consecutive days. Most allow allow you to pick up the bike in one location and drop it off at another location for a fee, about CHF 10. Children or adults with SBB Half-Fare or GA card will get about a 10-15% discount. Children with SBB Juniorcards receive a 50% discount. Prices include helmets. Here are some sample prices from 2015, with a SBB Half’-Fare card.

  • Child or adult bike = 1/2 day CHF 22, full day CHF 30
  • Bike trailer or tandem attachment = 1/2 day CHF 13.50, full day CHF 17.50 (with rental of adult bike)

SBB sometimes has combo offers with bike rentals and public transport tickets, giving you a slight discount on both. More information and current details on this SBB webpage.

Publibike is a self-service bike sharing system in over 100 locations across Switzerland. You can pick and drop off in different locations, 24/7. It offers yearly memberships as well as daily or short-term use. They offer e-Bikes and city bikes for adults. They do not offer children’s bikes or child bike seats.

Some Swiss cities offer free bike rentals for use in the city, like Zürirollt in Zurich. At Zürirollt, you leave an ID and CHF 20 deposit per bike and you have free use of the bike for the day. The bikes can be dropped off at any of the other Zürirollt stations in the city. You can’t reserve bikes. Most have children’s bikes (usually 20 or 24 in) and child bike seats, though supply is limited. Some have scooters as well. I’ve used this service to rent bikes and ride them along the Sihl river on the west side of Zurich lake, which I would recommend. See locations and opening times on the Zürirollt website.

Public Transport with Bikes

The Swiss public transportation makes it easy to travel with bikes. Detailed information is available on the SBB website. My short summary is below but please refer to the SBB website for current rules, prices, and restrictions.

You can take your bike onto almost all trains and some buses, if there is enough space. On busy routes and during commute hours, there may not be room for your bike and you’ll have to wait for the next train.

Reservations are required for ICN trains (symbol shown on train schedule). Bikes are not allowed on S-Bahn trains Mo-Fr from 16:00 to 19:00, aka commute hours.

Many trains have a coach with extra space for bikes. This coach has a bike symbol on the outside. You can simply load the bike yourself onto most trains.  But some popular, busy routes ( have an attendant that must load it for you. Sometime they have bike hooks and expect you to hang your bike to maximize space.

You’ll need a ticket for yourself and your bike. This applies to children’s bikes even if the child is under 6 or over 6 with a Juniorcard for free train travel. This SBB webpage outlines the bike fares in detail. In general, for short distances you will simply buy a second ticket for the bike (half-fare for children or adults with Half-Fare or GA cards). For longer distances, you can buy a day pass for your bike, (CHF 12 half-fare, CHF 18 full-fare ) which covers all of Switzerland for 24 hours.

SBB offers other bike services, like shipping bikes and special bike luggage bags that enable you to carry your bike for free on public transportation. You can find out more about that here: SBB – On the move by bike

Biking Road Rules

I haven’t yet found a website detailing Swiss biking road rules in English. Here are some links to some in German.

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